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Taking it slow in Laos

by becca on November 24, 2009

Our friend Pascal passing time at the border crossing while the guy working combed his hair.

Our friend Pascal passing time at the border crossing while the guy working combed his hair.

Lonely Planet compares the laid back atmosphere of Laos to a tuk-tuk driver that you have to wake up and persuade to drive you somewhere — a drastic difference from the constant touts of “tuk-tuk? tuk-tuk?” heard in Cambodia or “Moto? Moto? Moto-bike?” in Vietnam. And while there are plenty of tuk-tuk drivers ready and waiting to take you to your destination, the quiet capital of Laos, Vientiane, lives up to the travel guide’s metaphor.

We arrived at the Lao border early Sunday morning, and as it was a weekend, they added an extra dollar onto our visa on arrival fee for “overtime.” Interesting… There were three of us and we were the only people in the damn place, yet we waited and waited and waited. I’ve definitely developed monumental amounts of patience in Southeast Asia, so waiting for almost 45 minutes for them to process three visas was just plain funny. We peaked into the tinted window of the office to see if there was a problem. No problem, just one guy holding up a mirror and combing his hair, the other simply reading a magazine. These things are important! Finally a big bus of tourists pulled up and this must have been the motivation they needed to take the three minutes to process our information because we were out of there as the first person in the big group stepped up to the window.

The next morning, looking to tackle the feat of getting a 60-day tourist visa for Thailand, we began our search at the nearby travel agencies hoping to avoid the Thai consulate. These attempts failed. First because at 8:15 not a single one of five agencies, all with Open: 8am signs in the window, had any lights on. And after waiting, no one could help us so off to the consulate we went, in a willing tuk-tuk.

At this point, we’ve spent about five hours at the Thai Consulate, one at the American embassy and will be in line for another two or three hours this afternoon. So we’ve been doing plenty of sitting around and chilling out in Vientiane thus far.

Looking around at the sometimes empty streets of the city, the light (and sometimes non-existent) traffic, Lao people lounging around under the shade on the banks of the Mekong and the French influnced sidewalk cafes, Vientiane really is the most relaxed capital city (of a country, or a state in the US) that I’ve ever experienced. Though the city comes with the price tag of a major city and we’re ready to move on to the lower prices and even slower paces of Northern Laos.

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